Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The last sail of the season

Amazing sunrise  on Inishbofin 10 Oct 2013

  Inishbofin to Galway - the best sail of the year!

When dawn broke, it was even colder. But the sunrise was glorious, even though 'red sky at morning, sailors warning' usually means bad stuff coming. We pulled anchor at first light and headed out just ahead of Brian. As we set sails, the wind was a steady 15 knots -just out of the NE instead of the forecast NW. It stayed on the beam most of the way. It was a slightly fluky day with the wind dropping down to less than 10 knots then charging up to 20+, but that made it interesting and exhilarating.

Fascinating light over the Twelve Bens of Connemara in County Galway



Daria at the helm - nice swell!
Alex and I took turns at the helm since Otto, our autopilot, was not cooperating. The seas were calm except for a widely spaced gentle swell, and the sky was a brilliant dark blue high above, an aqua colour nearer the horizon, and dotted with clouds of unusual shapes with brilliant sunshine peaking from between the clouds. It was one of the best sailing days I can remember in a long time. With that, we decided to keep on going straight through to Galway. We thought we'd make it before dark and the locks were opening around 2000. It might actually work out perfectly.

Passing Slyne Head on a settled day

Alex at the helm under blue sky
How different this trip was to last one we made down this coast. That time, en route to the Volvo Finale, we had 25 knot headwinds and nasty seas. We sailed in company with several yachts from the Mayo Sailing Club, some of which were really small.  Aleria powered through while they pounded the whole way.  This time we had a gentle sail with 10-15 knots on the beam or the stern quarter much of the time. At times, the wind died completely and we started the engine only to shut it down again 10 minutes later. Then it would pipe up to 25 knots and we'd fly toward our destination, giggling the whole way.

We had plenty of opportunity this time to observe the coast. How very different it is from Clew Bay or Donegal Bay. Clew Bay has mountains that come down to the sea and hundreds of tiny islands to explore. Donegal Bay is ringed by spectacular cliffs and inlets that form natural harbours. Galway Bay has a relatively flat shore on the Galway County side and gentle but stark hills on the Clare side. There are few natural inlets, and no where to anchor between Cashla Bay and Galway.  Rossaveal in Cashla is where the ferries depart from that service the Aran Islands.

Perfect conditions
We made Galway at about 1930 and tied off to a mooring to await the opening of the lock gates. We tidied up and watched the sunset. Brian texted that he was becalmed with engine problems and wouldn't get in until about 2 am. We offered to stand by and even tow him in, but he declined. He was planning to tie up to the pontoon outside. He told us to go ahead in and he'd see us in the morning. We asked him to text us when he got in, which he did at 0212.

When the time came, Alex called the harbour and asked if the gates were opening on time. They were already open we were told. Then he asked about any traffic of concern. They said we'd have to get in right away as there was a tanker leaving at precisely 2000 hours. PANIC. No way would we be able to fit with a tanker in the channel.  We had 15 minutes to get in and out of the way.

The cardinal mark at Black Rock
Alex says, "Get the binoculars and tell me where to go.  I cannot see a thing."  So I grab the binoculars. It's now dark, and with the gates open I can see straight through to the city. Street lights turning green, yellow and red, brake lights on cars flashing. Where is the damned approach light?  Finally, I make out the lateral sector light on the harbourmaster's building. It's green, so we're too far right. We spot the yellow (or is it white?) follow it in and the harbour is lit up inside like it's daylight. We get in and the big ship already has its engines running and soon starts backing. We're heading for the slip, but it's occupied. WTF?  There's a slip open a few down so I tell Alex to go there. It's a tight turn but he makes it perfectly, I hop off the boat onto the dock with bow, stern and midships lines, maneuver Aleria into the slip with the docklines and we are safe and secure in the harbour. We made it! We are out of the way of the BFS. Phew.

It's 9 pm and we think, who wants to cook? Let's get to a restaurant to have dinner. We are in Galway after all. We call the harbourmaster's office to get the combination for the gate or we wouldn't get back in. We both shower and change in less than 20 minutes and get to Chez Azur on the harbour in time to order. What an amazing day!  One of the best sailing days ever. Wonderful way to end the season.
Past Inishmore and into Galway Bay

The Clare shore of Galway Bay at the Burren 

The lighthouse on Mutton Island

Tidying up on a mooring awaiting the opening of the locks

Sun setting over Salt Hill

Moon rising over the Burren


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